- Friday, May 17, 2024

Twenty-six years ago, as warm Caribbean winds swept across the communist island of Cuba, a young counterintelligence officer made the brave decision to risk his life for the freedom of his people by helping Fidel Castro’s sworn enemy — the United States of America.

On July 17, 1998, 32-year-old Ernesto Borges Perez took a dossier he had collected from his station at Department 1 of the Ministry of Interior. This special unit hunted U.S. intelligence agents operating in Cuba. Having trained for four years in Moscow with the KGB, Mr. Borges had a rare glimpse of the glasnost and perestroika reforms that preceded the collapse of the Soviet Union. Disillusioned with communism, the young agent risked his life to attack the Castro military dictatorship from within.

Reports suggest that Mr. Borges tried to reach the United States Interests Section, which has operated as Washington’s diplomatic center in Cuba ever since it severed ties with the Castro regime in 1961. His plan was to make contact with an American diplomatic officer stationed in Havana, and pass along a list of 26 Cuban spies who were trained to engage in “operational games” to create confusion within the U.S. intelligence community.

The seven-story concrete and glass building, between L and M streets in the Vedado neighborhood of Havana, boldly displayed an American flag at its entrance. This was countered by a large billboard across the street depicting an animated Cuban revolutionary shouting at Uncle Sam, “Imperialist sirs, we have no fear of you!”

Despite his extensive counterintelligence training, Mr. Borges’ attempt was foiled when he was captured by Castro agents and taken to Villa Marista, a former Catholic school where the Cuban military dictatorship imprisons and tortures political prisoners. He was prosecuted six months later for espionage in a secret military tribunal that drew scrutiny for falling short of international due process standards. After he was sentenced to death by firing squad, his fate was commuted to 30 years in prison.

For the past 26 years, Mr. Borges has languished in prison. In 2017, he was diagnosed with cataracts and an inguinal hernia. Although both conditions require surgery, his jailers have denied him surgery under the auspices that it would endanger his life. In other words, the Cuban regime wants to keep Mr. Borges alive as long as possible so they can continue to torture him.

Even though Mr. Borges received a 30-year sentence, Cuban law dictates he should have been released on parole several years ago, a fact that has not escaped his father, Raul Borges Alvarez, who has spent decades calling for his son’s release. “I appeal to the international democratic community, to all good men to intervene in the case of my son,” the tearful father told ADN Cuba last week. “Please — Ernesto is going to go blind if we do not act quickly. Freedom for political prisoners. Freedom for Ernesto. Freedom for Cuba.”

Cuban opposition leaders say that while Mr. Borges risked his life to help the United States, Washington has done little to effectuate his release.

“Ernesto was captured in 1998, the same year the Cuban Wasp spy network was dismantled by the FBI in the United States,” John Suarez, executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba, told The Washington Times. “While the Wasp spies planned to murder Americans and spy on military installations, they were convicted in U.S. courts with due process. By December 2014, all of them were freed either by serving their sentences or receiving commutations from President Obama. Nearly a decade later, after 26 years of a brutal 30-year sentence, Ernesto Borges, a man of conscience — who did not conspire to murder anyone — remains in prison. He should have been freed long ago.”

Marcell Felipe, the founder of Inspire America, told The Times that Mr. Borges’ case illuminates a tragic irony when comparing his 30-year sentence with the 15 years former U.S. diplomat turned Cuban spy Manuel Rocha received.

“Ever wonder why Cuba has been able to place spies inside the U.S. government, but Washington cannot do the same?” Mr. Felipe asked me. “Just look at the case of Manuel Rocha vs. Ernesto Borges. Rocha participated in the murder of four Floridians, betrayed the country that welcomed him as an immigrant, but he only got 15 years. Borges risked his life to provide documents to the U.S. and he received a 30-year sentence in a prison where inflicting torture on inmates advances the standing of prison officials.”

Orlando Gutierrez Boronat, chairman of the Cuban Assembly of the Resistance, said that Mr. Borges bravely defied his tormentors when they tried to convert him. “Ernesto Borges is a courageous and principled freedom fighter who has shown integrity in refusing reeducation,” he said. “His case warrants attention. He should not be forgotten.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, who has long championed the cause of Cuban freedom, told The Times that the world should take notice of the regime’s cruel treatment of political prisoners.

“The criminal Castro and Diaz-Canel regime has, for decades, subjugated political prisoners and prisoners of conscience to unimaginable hardships as a way to attempt to shatter their conviction of a free and democratic Cuba,” the Florida Republican said. “Today, the Cuban regime holds more than 1000 people in their gulags under unimaginable conditions. The plight of these individuals and their families is not in vain; their legacy and valor lives on.”

• Jeffrey Scott Shapiro is a former Washington prosecutor who served as a senior adviser and director for the U.S. Office of Cuba Broadcasting from 2017 to 2021. He now serves on The Washington Times’ editorial board and focuses on human rights.

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